LGBTQ activists protesting outside the Supreme Court. (Photo Credit: Ted Eytan)

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been amended to include same-sex sexual harassment under the sex discrimination statutes of the law. Expanding on the case of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is creating a way for LGBTQ employees to remain safe while at work. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals maintains jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina; having responsibility for all district courts in those areas.

With Title VII’s update, cases such as Roberts v. Glenn Industrial Group, Inc. may have different, more LGBTQ-inclusive, outcomes. Chazz Roberts, employed by an all-male business, was suffering from intense verbal and physical abuse by his supervisor. Claiming these assaults were in response to his sexual orientation, Roberts took the case to court where it was subsequently dismissed. 

It was not until the dismissal was reversed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that Roberts’ case was brought before a jury. In 2019 there would not have been a ruling in Roberts’ favor under the Title VII regulations. Only instances in which the harassing individual were LGBTQ and participated in sexually-explicit harassment could they be found guilty of violating Title VII. 

The Supreme Court would also use Title VII for non-LGBTQ individuals who experience harassment due to their gender. The verbiage in Title VII, however, relates to “sex” rather than “gender.” This may prove to be a problem for transgender individuals whose sex does not align with their gender expression or identity. 

For the time being, however, the Fourth Circuit is focusing on protecting those whose sexual orientations, or suspected sexual orientations, may cause them to become targets of workplace abuse. This harassment will protect LGBTQ individuals from derogatory terms as well as inappropriate sexual conduct by any employer or fellow employee.

The Georgia-based case of Bostock v. Clayton County has proven that, provided proper documentation and evidence of an incident, LGBTQ individuals can prosecute their workplaces for firing them on the basis of their sexual orientation. Gerald Bostock promoted his gay softball league to his work colleagues and was subsequently terminated for acting in a way that the company claimed was unbecoming of a Clayton County employee. 

With more cases like Roberts and Bostock’s being brought to light across the country, Title VII is subject to expand; incorporating more of the LGBTQ spectrum of employees as protected classes in the process. 

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